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Lee Sang-hwa trails Kodaira but remains set on gold

Oct 25,2017
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Two-time Olympic gold medalist Lee Sang-hwa, in front, practices with teammates during the opening national team training session at Taeneung International Rink in Seoul on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
Lee Sang-hwa may have fallen behind Nao Kodaira of Japan during the 2016-17 season, but is focused on winning another gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Lee has won gold medals in the women’s 500-meter race at both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. PyeongChang will be her opportunity to defend the title for the third Olympic event, but to do so, she will have to overcome Kodaira, who dominated last season.

“I’m not that aware of Nao Kodaira,” Lee said during the Korean national speed skating team’s media day at Taeneung International Rink in Seoul on Tuesday. “Kodaira is a great skater, but there are other great skaters aside from Kodaira.”

While Lee was struggling from injuries during the 2016-17 season, Kodaira won all six of the ISU World Cup series. At the International Skating Union (ISU) World Single Distances Speed Skating Championship at Gangnueng Oval in February, Lee won silver by finishing just short of Kodaira. And at the Sapporo Asian Winter Games, Lee again won silver, finishing 0.31 seconds behind Kodaira.

“Even when I was competing when I wasn’t feeling my best last year, I didn’t feel that Kodaira was fast,” Lee said. “I fell behind because I made mistakes in cornering. Rather than being aware of someone, it’s more important to have a perfect race by minimizing my mistakes.”

In the offseason, Lee left to Calgary to train.

“I tried to practice like it’s an actual race, and during the race, I try to race like I do in practice,” Lee said. “Time in the first 100 meters will be the most important. That’s the part I’ll have to perfect.”

Though Lee may have fallen behind in maintaining her top spot, she is still the best in Korea, as she won the national team trials last week in both the 500-meter and 1,000-meter races, with times of 38.23 seconds and 1:17.60. Last season, Lee struggled with a knee injury, which had been bothering her throughout her career, in addition to a calf injury from last season.

“Other skaters are racing with injuries,” Lee said. “I try not to think about it. I’ve been rehabilitating a lot. I don’t have time to worry about my injuries.”

Lee will start her season with the ISU World Cup race Nov. 10 to 12 in Heerenveen, Netherlands. The event will heat up the competition against Kodaira, who is in fine form, as she recently set a record of 37.25 seconds at Japan’s National Single Distance Championships in the women’s 500-meter race on Sunday.

“Right now, I need to focus on the preparation [more] than the result,” Lee said. “I feel a lot better than the Sochi Olympics. At the time, I was overwhelmed because it felt like defending my title was a must. Once I empty my mind, the result will come.”

During media day, new uniforms were presented and the skaters held an open-training session.

BY KIM WON [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]